WILMINGTON, Del.-“I crossed the border with a small group,” shared Pedro Reyes. “One mother had a baby girl. We heard that there had been many robbers along the way, so we put all our money in the baby’s diaper, certain that thieves would never think of looking there. Thank God, we made it safely.”
More than 600 diverse people attended a bilingual ecumenical service at Corpus Christi Church in Elsmere, Del., May 1, prayed for just immigration reform and listened to several testimonies. The event, sponsored by St. Paul’s Voces Sin Fronteras, was attended by friars Bill McIntrye, Chris Posch, and novicesErick Lopez and Paul O’Keeffe, as well as Franciscan volunteer Miguel Gutierrez.
“Now, I’m a legal immigrant,” continued Pedro of St. Catherine of Siena Church in Wilmington. “But not all my neighbors and cousins are… It’s not fair. We are workers. We have to be on call 24 hours a day. Thank God that the churches have helped us so much.” The assembly burst into applause.
“I came with dreams,” declared Alejandra, a Costa Rican native from St. Paul’s in Wilmington. “I arrived in Florida without family, money, and travel tickets. I didn’t eat for three days. I ate from a garbage dumpster and slept on the beach. A nice lady found me, woke me up, gave me her hand and offered help. I couldn’t believe it.”
“She let me stay the night, gave me two T-shirts and bus tickets to my destination, Delaware,” continued Alejandra. “When I left Florida, it was 70 degrees. When I arrived in Delaware, it was snowy and 26 degrees. I didn’t know what to do.”
Peruvian-born Paola described crossing borders in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico at the tender age of 16. She said that there were so many people at the Guatemalan border that she fainted. She does not recall what happened.
“My family is very poor,” shared Paola, weeping. “I work hard and study hard. I send a lot of money home to my family.”
After eight years in Delaware, Paola is tormented. She has a boyfriend whom she loves dearly and would like to marry. But she wants to go home to Peru to visit her family first, but she’s afraid to risk crossing multiple borders again.
Tragically, such family disintegration has become commonplace, as was portrayed in a brief skit with an immigrant cast. A young mother with four small children bid them farewell with hugs and tears in order to come to the North. After 15 years of selfless sacrifice and excruciating labor, the mother returned to Mexico to discover that her very own young adult children didn’t recognize her. One teen declared, “You can’t be my mother.” Another coldly stated, “I don’t know you.” There was a collective gasp from the gathered assembly, many with jaws wide open and eyes welled with tears.
At the conclusion of the moving drama, Alberto, a humble teenage laborer from St. John-Holy Angels, Newark, who just immigrated from Mexico last month, spoke for the first time in public: “Thank you for listening. Thank you for supporting us.”
Then, accompanied by her acoustic guitar, Miriam offered a stirring and heartfelt rendition Sumérjeme, gently singing, “Come to me, Lord. I’m tired from the long road. You’ve been with me in the desert I’ve crossed. I’ve fought like a warrior. Come to me, Lord. Holy Spirit, submerge me, bathe me, in your Living Water.”
In a light moment, Max Dooly recounted some history of the development of his congregation, Trinity Episcopal Church, Wilmington: In 1638, Native Americans welcomed and greeted his Swedish ancestors. With a twinkle in his eye, Max joyfully declared, “They didn’t ask for visas. They didn’t ask for passports. They didn’t ask for green cards.” The assembly burst into laughter and applause.
Later, Mexican-born José thanked Americans and churches for their welcome and orientation. He graciously acknowledged that immigrant purchases of homes and autos have helped to stimulate the U.S. economy. He reminded all that many of his fellow-immigrants have battled in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq. An electrical engineer with a master’s degree from Mexico, José cleans office buildings.
After a moment of silent prayer for those who have died or suffered violence while crossing the border, Rev. Ruben Rodriguez from Trinity Episcopal and I led the assembly in a bilingual Our Father. Then, Rev. Thomas Stout of Elsmere Presbyterian Church blessed the assembly, and we began an outdoor candlelight procession. As hundreds of singing pilgrims walked peacefully along Kirkwood Highway praying and singing bilingually This Little Light of Mine with burning candles swaying to and fro, I couldn’t help but think of Moses’ people being set free from slavery in Egypt, searching for the promised land.
As we returned to Corpus Christi Church, the pastor, Father Greg Corrigan, greeted arriving pilgrims with open arms, declaring in English and Spanish, “Welcome. You have a home here. We are one body.”
People stayed in the Church entrance for about an hour, dancing, making merry, and enjoying the serenades of classic tunes such as Cielito Lindo; With Money, Without Money, and Cry and Cry with choirs from St. Catherine of Siena and Our Lady of Fatima, New Castle.
The photo accompanying this article was provided by Voces Sin Fronteras.